While the weather remained in winter mode on a recent Saturday in Des Moines, the weightlifting competition inside the Des Moines University Wellness Center was heating up. James Fahey and Fiona Fitzgerald, second-year students in DMU’s doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.) program, organized the fierce but friendly competition.
“We both lift and wanted to create a wellness center event other than intramural sports,” says Fiona, a dancer who was inspired to try weightlifting by a dance instructor who also taught Crossfit.
“It was a way to show spirit and give students one more activity to talk about at their residency interviews,” adds James. He started weightlifting while in basic training for the U.S. Army.
The students got a positive response from the DMU campus community when they first promoted the event late last fall. They credit Joy Schiller, M.S., CHES, director of wellness, for being a “huge help” in organizing the event, but she praised the students for taking the lead.
“Fiona and James did an outstanding job organizing, promoting and running this competition,” she says. “This event was just what we needed, especially this time of year when it’s so cold outside and winter seems like it’s never going to end.”
Despite the typically crammed schedules of medical/health sciences students, the competition drew 11 students who represented all three DMU colleges and one staff member, Katie Wahl, a certified medical assistant in the DMU Clinic’s osteopathic clinical medicine department. Competitors performed a squat, a dead lift and a bench press; the highest weights lifted were calculated as percentages of the lifters’ body weight in each category and then totaled overall.
Winning the women’s division was Sarah Fowle, a second-year student in DMU’s doctor of physical therapy (D.P.T.) program, who lifted weights in the three categories totaling an impressive 309.8 percent of her body weight. Troy Tigges, a third-year student in the D.P.T., program, hoisted weights equal to a remarkable 704.68 percent of his weight. Sarah began weightlifting about two years ago when she joined CrossFit Merle Hay in Des Moines. She entered the DMU competition to try something “fun and different.”
“I also thought it would be interesting to see how strong other students at DMU are – turns out they are really strong!” she says.
Troy says he got into weightlifting about 12 years ago thanks to his father. “He was a semi-pro/natural bodybuilder. I always looked up to him, and in seventh grade he showed me the ropes of proper weightlifting form and technique,” he says. “Ever since then, I continued weightlifting through sports and throughout college. To this day I do it for fun and stress relief.”
More important than the glory of winning, Sarah says she enjoyed how “motivational” all the competitors, volunteers and fans were during the event. “Everyone cheered for everyone, and there wasn’t a suffocating spirit of competitiveness,” she says. “It felt like we were all just there to have fun and show off a little bit.”
Troy agrees. “Typically when you’re in the gym, you may socialize with a few friends, but everyone is in their own world to some extent,” he notes. “With this event, it was an opportunity to socialize with plenty of people that you recognize but never really gotten a chance to talk to. Also, everyone was cheering each other on, whether they knew them or not. So really the personalities of the DMU students that participated made it an excellent event to be a part of.”
Organizers James and Fiona, who became weightlifting partners last year, hope the competition becomes an annual event. They praised students and staff who volunteered as spotters, scorekeepers and cheerleaders at the competition and Ariel Gubatina Jr., the DMU anatomy lab specialist, who served as the event photographer.
“This event was an exceptional example of strength, inclusion and camaraderie,” Ariel says. “It showed how our students balance their feats of intelligence in the classroom while being this herculean in the gym.”